A Study of the Architecture of Cretan Civilization.
“The things in which we take perennial delight are the feast, the lyre, the dance, clean linen in plenty, a hot bath, and our beds.” The Odyssey
As a culture with little written history, one of the only tangible records of the Minoans are the ruins on the island of Crete. Through an interpretive study of the ruins, it is feasible to make solid conjectures about the nature of economy, religion, government and private life of ancient Crete. The ruins of the Minoan palaces, specifically Knossos, imply a defined social structure that indicates a love of entertainment and art, as well as structured social interaction.
When examining architectural ruins to discern cultural fact, there are many factors that must be considered, including floor plans, decoration, size of rooms, geographic placement of the structure, and materials used. As Susan Kent writes, “the direct influence of culture on space on architecture means that we need to be concerned with a group’s bygone culture in order to understand architecture.”1 When this is understood, it becomes obvious that the architecture of the palaces of Knossos did not dictate the lives of Minoans, bur rather, the lives of the Minoans directly dictated what the architecture was. Therefore, essential information about the lives and culture of the citizens of Crete can be gleaned from the architectural choices they made.
Many floor plans of the palace of Knossos have been reconstructed from the ruins, and when viewed, they provide a wealth of information. As can clearly be seen in Figure Three, Knossos was an intricate web of rooms, all surrounding a large central space, called the Central Court. The large size of the space indicates that it may have been used for ceremony or entertainment, as it could hold a large-scale activity or big groups of people. This idea is reinforced by its centralized location. This area has become a heated source of debate among historians, who claim that the Central Court was used for a number of activities. As James Baikie imagines, the Central Court could have been “the meeting place between the citizens of Knossos and their royal masters. Here probably all the business between the town and the palace-folk was transacted; stores were brought up, received and paid for bythe palace stewards, and passed into the great magazines; and here, perhaps, the ancients of the Knossian Assembly gathered in council to discuss affairs.”2
In addition to this area, the labyrinth of smaller rooms surrounding the central space also is very telling of the values of Minoan life. The amount of rooms, indicates that the Minoans clearly valued private space to some degree, and had a sense of social propriety about what social and personal activities could be performed in public or private spaces. Also, many of these private rooms are more intricate than others, indicating that there was a defined upper class.
In any society, the space provided for ceremony or ritual is extremely telling, and Knossos is no exception. In the palace, the Throne Room provides a wealth of information in understanding the Minoan way of life. As can be seen in Figure Five, beautiful alabaster benches line the walls, and there is a throne sitting at one end of the room, with a pool of water in the center of the space. While the throne shows that there was a king, the benches seem to show that this was not merely room of worship, but rather, a place where the ruler would entertain an audience, or even confer with other leaders or confidantes.
The palace of Knossos was not merely a place of ceremonial worship, however, and this becomes obvious when the amount of storerooms in the palace is noted. As Figure One shows, there are many small identical rooms on the outer portions of the palace that could be used to store food. This is quite telling of a society, as it indicates that there was...